Campus adopts reusable to-go containers

by Alyssa Mehra | 7/20/17 8:30pm

Madison Sabol ’18 has come up with a way to greatly reduce the College’s carbon footprint. After two years of research and assistance from the Dartmouth Office of Sustainability and Dartmouth Dining Services, she has created the “Green2Go” food takeout program, which replaces the disposable to-go containers in the Class of 1953 Commons with reusable ones.

“When I came back to school my sophomore fall, I was starting to recognize all the ways in which we produce waste on campus,” Sabol said.

She said that she was inspired by her classes in environmental studies at the College and the blog “Trash is for Tossers,” where she learned that one needs to identify a need before finding a solution.

Sabol did preliminary research on waste at the College and found that students involved in the office of sustainability previously conducted an audit, discovering that 200 pounds of food are wasted every evening at dinner in FoCo, sustainability office director Rosalie Kerr ’98 said.

“There are people in the Upper Valley who don’t have enough food, so it’s really a waste to throw away all that food,” Kerr said.

Before Green2Go, DDS tried different ways of reducing its waste, such as changing proportion sizes and encouraging students to not overfill their plates.

Sabol herself found that 400 to 600 containers are used each dining period. She then interviewed and surveyed students in order to learn more about the reasons that students use to-go containers and how the current system makes it difficult to prevent waste.

Additionally, Sabol said she discussed the issue with peer institutes, researching the ways in which they dealt with waste. She learned about the efficacy of systems in place at schools including Harvard University, Oberlin College, Columbia University, Princeton University and Tulane University.

“All of our sustainability initiatives have come from a passionate student. We’re excited to help students accomplish the programs they want implemented,” Kerr said.

“For me, it’s really cool when a student comes up with an idea and really does the research to make it happen,” she added.

Sabol launched a pilot project last July with the $1,000 grant she received from the Dartmouth Outing Club’s Environmental Studies Division.

The “Green2Go” program involves a one-time payment of $4 for a reusable container at the Class of 1953 Commons. Students fill the container and take it with them, as they would with the previous to-go containers. The used containers can then be dropped off at any dining location on campus. Green2Go members have the option of exchanging their used box for a clean container or a carabiner that can be turned in for a to-go box at a later date. One of the changes made from the pilot program was the alternative use of the carabiner rather than a Green2Go membership card. The carabiner was chosen because it can attach to a student’s backpack, which is more convenient than the card.

“I was under the impression that you had to clean the container yourself. Now that I understand [that] the process is far simpler than that, I really support this initiative,” Lizzie Carr ’19 said.

Sabol said the one-time investment encourages students to stay accountable because they would have to buy a new one if they lose the carabiner or container.

However, the price of the container has been a deterrent for some students in utilizing the to-go option.

“$4 for a to-go container? It’s like the napkins all over again. It’s making things inconvenient,” Carter Copeland ’19 said.

The boxes are sold at cost, said Sabol. DDS is not making any profit on them.

DDS has initiated similar efforts to prevent waste in the Class of 1953 Commons. In January, they removed individual napkin dispensers at each table to reduce napkin waste by 30 percent. It reduced paper waste, because people were often throwing away clean napkins, Kerr said.

“The napkin effort seemed to upset a lot of people. DDS did it without asking people,” Kerr said. “I think they didn’t really think that it was going to be a big deal.”

DDS has continued their sustainability efforts in terms of food sourcing and is interested in solutions to these issues, especially when suggested by students.

“It tends to be positive feedback when DDS switch to more sustainable or locally sourced food item. We’re all interested in the health of our food supply,” Kerr said.